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Carlos Alcaraz produced a burst of untouchable clay-court tennis Thursday at the Hamburg European Open to overcome a slow start in a 7-6(4), 6-3 victory against Filip Krajinovic.

While the Serbian matched the top seed blow for blow in the opening set and served for the set at 5-4, Alcaraz began to find his top level at the crucial moment. He saved four set points in that 5-4 game, then reeled off five straight points to win the tie-break from 2/4.

“I had to play one of my best matches on Tour. I’m really happy with my performance,” Alcaraz said after the victory.

Carlos Alcaraz

In a clean match from both sides, Krajinovic hit five more winners than Alcaraz, finishing with a pristine 27-to-15 winners-to-unforced-errors count.

“It was pretty tough. Filip was playing unbelievable. He played really well from the beginning until the end.”

Down 2/4 in the tie-break, Alcaraz went from defense to offense as he punished a floated Krajinovic volley to get back on serve. That escape opened the floodgates for a barrage of Alcaraz winners which sealed the set and shifted the momentum firmly onto his side.

The Spaniard raced to a double-break advantage at 4-1 in the second set behind more heavy hitting. Despite giving one break back, Alcaraz closed out the match with ease to set up a quarter-final showdown with Karen Khachanov — a rematch of their Roland Garros fourth-round meeting, which Alcaraz won in straight sets. The seventh-seeded Khachanov defeated Fabio Fognini 6-3, 7-5 earlier on Thursday in Hamburg.

“I know that Karen’s playing well,” the Spaniard said of his next opponent. “He has a great level, big serve, so it’s going to be a tough match. But I think with the performance today, I have the confidence to have a good match in the quarter-finals.”

With the victory, Alcaraz improved to 22-2 on clay this season, his 22 victories joint-most alongside Casper Ruud (22-7), who was victorious in Gstaad on Thursday. Alcaraz is seeking his fourth clay title on the year; he leads the ATP Tour with three such trophies to date (Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Madrid) in addition to his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title on the Miami hard courts. Alcaraz’s four tour-level titles match Rafael Nadal’s four for the most overall in 2022.

Yewti- NOVAK DJOKOVIC has been told he faces five threats if he’s to end up as the greatest male tennis player of all time.

Novak Djokovic has been warned about five players who could be a threat to his hopes of ending on more Grand Slams than Rafael Nadal. Djokovic could be barred from playing the next two Slams and Nadal knows by winning both he would open a three-major lead that may never be bridged.

Rafael is still 19-0 in Grand Slams in 2022 in a year where he has stretched his record of triumphs to an unparalleled 22. He had to pull out at Wimbledon before the semi-finals due to injury and so remains undefeated in majors on the court this year. In his absence Djokovic halved the Spaniard’s advantage with a four-set final defeat of Nick Kyrgios.

But Djokovic’s lack of Covid vaccination means he is currently unlikely to play the US Open while he is currently banned from Australia for three years after having his visa cancelled earlier this year, also chiefly because he is unvaccinated. That presents Nadal a chance to restore a two-Slam lead on the Serb or to even open up a three-Slam gap.

Novak Djokovic would still fancy his chances of tying level with Nadal even if he improved to 24 Slams, with the world No 7 younger and less injury prone. But former British No 1 John Lloyd and 1987 Wimbledon winner Pat Cash think there are five blossoming players who could damage Djokovic’s chances of winning more Slams from the 2023 French Open onwards.

Novak Djokovic

Lloyd told the BBC: “Definitely I would pick him [Jannik Sinner as one of the best of the next generation] but the one I love the most is [Carlos] Alcaraz. Even though he didn’t play as well perhaps against Sinner. But he’ll learn and I think he’ll win 10-plus Grand Slams. He’s that good.”

Alcaraz, 19, has won reached the quarter-finals of the last US Open and of this year’s French Open and has won Masters 1000 titles in Miami and Madrid in recent months. While Cash picked out Denmark’s Holger Rune and Norway’s Casper Ruud, currently ranked fifth in the world, as two of four players he’s keeping an eye on.

Cash added: “I think there’s a couple of Scandinavians, Ruud and Rune. They are also very good. Sinner of course is a great player. And Jack Draper, I think he’s going to do really well.” Briton Draper lost in the second round at Wimbledon but the 20-year-old has not long been on the ATP Tour and reached the semi-finals at Eastbourne before playing at SW19.

Ruud reached the final of the French Open only to lose to Nadal as the ‘King of Clay’ claimed his 14th Roland Garros triumph. The 23-year-old had won the Geneva Open before that having also won the Argentina Open back in February, reaching the final of the Miami Masters only to lose to Alcaraz.

Rune, just 19, lost to Ruud in the French Open quarter-finals in June but has likewise shown great promise and won the Bavarian International and the Sanremo Challenger in 2022. While Sinner, the world No 10 who was beaten by Djokovic in the Wimbledon quarters, has not won any titles this year.

But the Italian, 20, has reached the quarter-finals of two Slams and is 31-10 for the year. Alcaraz is the most favoured of the lot with the world No 6, last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals champion, highly fancied to replace Nadal as the most dominant player on clay in the future. If he and Nadal can produce strong showings at the French Open in 2023, Djokovic may be forced to wait until Wimbledon next year to win another Slam.

Monday marked 17 years since Rafael Nadal entered the top 10 of the world and he had lived there since then.

Rafael Nadal’s streak inside the world’s top 10 has officially reached 17 years. The current world No 4 has sat in the elite standing of the rankings since he was 18-years-old and has never dropped out, despite injury woes throughout his career.

Monday marks 17 years since Nadal entered the world’s top 10 for the first time, on February 25 2005. Then 18-years-old, the Spaniard broke the ranking milestone after winning his first of 12 Barcelona Open titles the previous day, defeating former world No 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-1 7-6 6-3, back when the final was played as best of five sets.

It means the 21-time Grand Slam champion has stayed in the top 10 of the rankings for a monumental 866 consecutive weeks. Eight of the nine players who were in the top 10 alongside Nadal have all since retired, with then-world No 1 Roger Federer the only player standing alongside the Spaniard, though the 40-year-old has been sidelined since Wimbledon last year after undergoing a third knee surgery.

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal himself has managed to stay inside the elite group in the rankings throughout multiple injury layoffs in his career, most recently having taken the back-end of 2021 off to recover from a foot injury. He is currently in the midst of a four to six week recovery period from a rib injury he picked up in Indian Wells but is set to return at the upcoming Madrid Masters.

The Spaniard’s ranking milestone anniversary also comes as one of his compatriots, who many believe will be the successor to Nadal, has broken into the top 10 aged 18 on the exact same day as the 35-year-old did at the same age. 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz made his top 10 debut as the new world No 9 on April 25 2022, 17 years after Nadal did the same at his age.

In even more of a coincidence, both men made their respective top 10 debuts after winning the Barcelona Open title. Then 18, Nadal beat fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero – who is now Alcaraz’s coach – to lift the title on February 24 2005, the first of his 12 at the tournament.

Seventeen years later, Alcaraz beat compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta to lift the Barcelona trophy for the first time. While Nadal has not commented in the 17th year in a row in the top 10, the new world no 9 has spoken reflecting his idol achievements.

“I’m happy to know that at 18 years old I’m in the Top 10, and to do it [at] the same age as my idol Rafa is impressive,” he said. And the teenager is hoping to replicate more of Nadal’s success as a five-time year-end No 1, a 21-time Grand Slam champion and an Olympic champion in both singles and doubles, as he added: “I’d like to be World No 1, a Grand Slam champion, winner of Olympic medals… I dream big.”

Rafael Nadal labelled Carlos Alcaraz’s triumph at the Miami Masters as ‘historic’, and predicted that his Spanish compatriot will go on to win “many more titles” during his career. Alcaraz defeated Norwegian Casper Ruud in the final at Hard Rock Stadium after a week in which he stunned the tennis world with his level of play, seeing off the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Hubert Hurkacz.

Rafa Nadal predicts that Carlos Alcaraz will go on to win “many more titles” following his triumph at the Miami Open.
By winning the event – Alcaraz beat Norwegian Casper Ruud in the final – the 18-year-old became the third-youngest winner of an ATP Masters 1000 event in the format’s history, with the only men younger being Michael Chang and Nadal himself.
Nadal therefore is well qualified to comment on the potential of his up-and-coming compatriot, who will now enter the clay-court season – the surface he grew up on – as one of the favourites for the swing’s main tournaments.

RAFAEL NADAL CARLOS ALCARAZ

Writing in Spanish on his social media, Nadal said: “Many congratulations Carlitos for your HISTORIC win in Miami.
“It’s the first of many more titles to come, I’m sure!”
Nadal also sent words of consolation to Ruud after a fine run on the American hard courts.

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The 20-time Grand Slam winner said: “And congrats Casper for an amazing tournament and result. Great swing!!!”
Ahead of the Miami final, Rafa’s uncle Toni was another knowledgeable figure to heap praise on Alcaraz, stating his view that the prodigy “has become a complete player and very difficult to overwhelm”.
Until last month, it was 35-year-old Nadal who had been the dominant figure on the men’s tour this season following his wins at the Australian Open and in Acapulco, and a final appearance in Indian Wells.
But with Nadal absent from Miami with a rib injury, Alcaraz has quickly muscled in on the act to announce his coming-of-age.
It promises to be some battle on the clay, with Nadal potentially able to return at the Madrid Masters in May.

RAFAEL NADAL CARLOS ALCARAZ